A short story, set in England – Colin Devonshire
Freja was thrashing the sopping bedsheets, mumbling what sounded like curses.
‘Wake up,’ her boyfriend shouted, even though he thought it was the wrong call.
‘Is waking someone from a nightmare the correct thing to do or not?’ Jack asked himself.
Soothing her wet face. He was the one who needed a calm hand on his brow. These dreams disturbed his sleep too often.
‘For God’s sake!’ he shouted, punching the mattress in fury.
Seconds later he froze rigidly. She suddenly stopped all movement, silent. Her eyes opened, and she lost her pupils into the top of her head. Her arms were wide, as were her legs. Then the shaking started, faster and faster, limbs were thumping the bed, then as quickly she stopped, staring directly at the ceiling, her head turned to face the quaking Jack.
‘You burned my feet,’ she screamed.
Later that morning, after tears and a long list of Jack’s questions accompanied with a pot of soothing tea, they had set off to Brighton’s shopping area. New sheets were top of the list.
‘Also, I’d better buy a lamp to replace the one we knocked over too,’ said Freja.
‘What do you mean ‘we’ knocked over?’
The couple glared at each other; they worried the shop staff.
‘What is up with you? Do you want us to split up? Is that it?’ he turned and stalked off.
She stood there watching him disappear into The Lanes. There would be no more shopping today. And no more boyfriend, she decided.
Freja turned and strolled along the pavement and waited for a bus to take her home. She was pleased with her decision.
‘I should call Patsy,’ she said to herself as her smile spread. Her reflection on the keypad turned sad. She wanted comfort from her only genuine friend.
Patsy rushed to her pal’s home, she was twenty-five, beautiful and smart, they had been friends since their days at Brighton Met Collage. Freja had needed help with the more advanced English Language course they were completing. Patsy had always been there for her.
Patsy sniggered as she recalled Freja saying, ‘I can’t do it. English is crazy!’
Today’s problem wouldn’t be the English language, she guessed?
‘Freja, what’s up? You’ve been crying.’
Red eyes blinked. ‘Coffee?’
‘Yeah. Please. It seems more serious than English spelling. Boyfriend trouble?’
Freja turned and grunted a ‘yes’ as she clicked on the kettle.
Patsy rushed out to the kitchen and hugged her friend.
‘What is it, babe? Not that low-life? Has he hit you?’
‘No, it’s not him. We are through.’
‘Then what upsets you?’
‘I want to tell you, but then again, I don’t.’
Patsy threw her jacket over the back of the sofa, ‘Now you are worrying me. Tell me.’
Freja splashed in some milk and picked up the mugs.
‘Sit,’ said Freja, studying her friend’s still staring eyes.
‘Come on, I know when you are lying. Did he hit you?’
‘No, no, nothing like that. It’s not him. It’s me.’
Patsy had seen her friend upset many times over the years. She had not had a smooth settling-in process on arrival in England. Her Danish father had thrown her and her mother out of their home in northern Denmark. Her English mother had decided they should return to London. Now Freja was living on the South coast in a boring, poorly paid office job.
‘Are you going to tell me?’ asked Patsy.
‘Yes, I mean no… You will think I’m cracking up. You remember why my Dad hated me?’
‘You told me once when you were drunk and then denied it. About you setting fire to things?’
‘Yes, and no. I don’t want to think about it. Or to talk about it.’
The conversation was going nowhere, Freja looking vacant, lost in thought.
Patsy just stared into her eyes, at a loss for words.
‘Okay, I’ll be off then, anytime you fancy wasting my time call me.’
The door slammed.
Freja let the tears roll down her cheeks. Slowly she got to her feet and started cleaning the mess in her bedroom. The real reason she needed to talk to her friend were the scorch marks on the windowsill.
Her mobile vibrated. She didn’t want to answer, but did, ‘Hi Mum. How are you?’
‘Freja, did you call me at three in the morning?’
‘No, did I?’
‘I have a missed call with your number. What’s wrong? Not that boyfriend of yours?’
‘No, Mum, we’ve split up.’
‘Is that why you called?’
‘I don’t remember calling, I slept from midnight until seven this morning.’
‘Okay, as long as you’re all right, why not come up and spend a few days here?’
‘Sorry Mum, I’ve got work. Can I ask you something?’
‘Do you ever have weird dreams?’
‘I think we all do. What has been troubling you? Don’t tell me your dreams have started again?’
‘A few days ago I started seeing flames on the sea.’
‘In a dream, you mean?’
‘No, actual flames, a few hundred yards out to sea.’
‘And… Oh God, it’s happening again,’ she now worried her mother. Thinking back to their last day in Denmark.
‘When I look again, they weren’t there.’
‘How odd, maybe a barbecue on a cruiser?’
Her mother hoped, needing to get her daughter’s mind elsewhere. Dreading a replay of the day her husband threw them out.
‘No Mum, it’s not. Then I dream about ships burning, old ships.’
‘I guess the dreams are because you see the fire at sea?’
‘Mum, it’s too crazy, I’m worried. Tell me the truth, what happened when I was young?’
‘Not now and not on the phone. Please come and see me, we can talk it through.’
‘I must work. Thanks anyway.’ Freja had no intentions of dragging up the past, and yet again she must stop pretending she had no memory of her youth.
She gently placed the phone on the bedside table, Freja continued cleaning the scorch marks from the windowsill.
Freja was drifting off in front of the telly. Her nose was twitching. Her dream started as a fun Guy Fawkes party, popping, whizzing and the smell of burnt sausages. The burning smell got stronger. Suddenly she leapt from her dream. Her bookcase was aflame. She needed water. Dropping the kettle lid by the kitchen door, she hurled the still warm water at the smoking books.
She could hear a voice, a man was talking, the powerful voice was strong, but the words were unknown. She thought she picked up a trace of Danish but did not understand what he said. Or where the voice was coming from. It seemed to be all around the room. Stillness returned to the living room. Smoke drifted towards the ceiling, but no flames. Just a quiet drip of water from the shelves. At first, too terrified to move, she edged her way to her cosy romance novels. The bare-chested men on the covers scorched beyond recognition. She was more concerned about how the fire started. Sitting in a puddle on the carpet, she searched for the cause of the flames.
Freja’s mind made up. She grabbed her phone.
‘Patsy, grab a bottle of wine and your nightdress. I need to speak to you, it will take all night.’
‘Have you gone mad? Last time you wouldn’t speak, now you want me to leave my sexy boyfriend to spend the night with you?’
‘Yep, I will tell you the full story.’
Twenty minutes later Patsy arrived. She didn’t have a bottle of wine, so she brought a 3-litre box.
‘What’s that I can smell? Are you cooking?’
‘On the table, glasses in the sideboard, be with you in a sec.’
‘This is more like the Freja I love.’
‘Sorry, it has been weird lately. I must talk to someone,’ said Freja.
‘Well, I’m here,’ she slugged her glass back.
‘Patsy, I’m not mad, you may think I am when you hear what’s been happening.’
She reeled off her recent experiences, starting with the nightmares and ending with the fires. She rattled away without interruption for half-an-hour.
‘It must be that idiot boyfriend trying to scare you?’
‘No, it’s not him. I want you to watch me as I sleep. I’m scared that it’s me doing it.’
Patsy decided they had drunk enough wine. Also, she needed her wits about her if her friend had cracked and she set the place alight.
‘Come with me,’ Freja lead her friend to the doorstep and pointed, ‘See, there.’
‘What are we looking at? Seagulls?’
‘No, can’t you see the flames on the ocean?’
The girls went back in and prepared for bed. Both nervous, one, not knowing what would happen next, the other fearing for her friend’s sanity.
‘As you know, I’ve only got one bedroom. Do you want the bed, the sofa, or shall we share the bed?’
‘It’s a double, so there is plenty of room for us little girls,’ Patsy said with a forced smile.
‘I’ll get the Cocoa you get ready,’ said Freja.
Soon they cuddled up moaning about men and how useless they were. The chatter dulled. The girls were settling down. Then Freja’s expression changed. An icy blade was lurking.
‘I keep seeing the fire out to sea. The coastguard told me there is nothing alight, you couldn’t see it. Just now I looked out and there it was again. Can you see it?’
A warm glow spread across the ceiling, but only one girl could sense it.
‘There is nothing there.’
‘I’ve been having weird dreams and somehow they are linked to the fires. Also, I keep seeing a man, long scruffy blonde hair, wispy beard and filthy. What does it all mean?’
‘Are you under stress at work?’
‘That’s a good one. The work is so easy it is mind-numbing.’
‘There must be something deep down that’s troubling you? What about what’s his name?’
‘It all started before we split up, but no, I can’t blame him. Dreams are one thing, but the fires are freaking me out. How do they start?’
‘You mean, the ones at sea, or the ones here?’
‘The ones here they could be dangerous.’
‘Let’s get some sleep.’
‘Grrrr, mein mein, Achh, Grrr, mein mein, Achh.’ Freja repeated the phrase over and over, waking Patsy.
‘Hey, what is it? Christ, you are freezing,’ Patsy gently shook her friend.
Freja kept mumbling gibberish, only getting louder. Her head was shaking from side to side, scaring Patsy.
‘Oh God, what should I do?’ she rushed to find her phone, ‘Nine-nine-nine, come on…’
An unearthly growl made her drop the mobile.
‘Who the hell are you? And how did you get in? I’m calling the police,’ she bent, without taking her eyes off the intruder. He smiled, his blue-grey eyes glinted in the dark. He reached the phone first and slid it towards the door with his foot. Eye to eye, he suddenly grabbed her throat in one powerful hand.
The wail from the bed caught both their attention. Freja was floating above the crumpled quilt.
The man dropped Patsy; she balled into a quivering heap. She rolled towards the door and her phone, then heard, ‘9-9-9 what service do you require?’
‘Please quick, we need police and ambulance….’ she whispered.
He kicked the phone from her hand.
Patsy screamed as her eyes focused on her friend, the girl above her was no longer her friend, the beast looked like Regan from The Exorcist, cracked and battered. She was not plunging a crucifix into herself, just floating across the room. She bathed in a cloud of dust, no; the murk was biting midges. Freja laughed, bellowing a roar as her mouth swelled and another cloud of mini-flies burst forth, Patsy was struggling to see through the fog. A ring of flames imprisoned her. Her untimely thought was ‘at least it stopped the insects’. A perfect circle of heat from floor to ceiling surrounded her.
Freja screeched at the man who now prostrated on the scorched smoking floor.
Patsy had heard her friend speak in Danish before. That wasn’t it. Whatever she bellowed, the man understood. Like a chained dog, she dragged him to the door.
A crack of thunder and they vanished.
The sound of sirens shocked Patsy out of her daze. Firemen burst through the open front door, pulling hoses as water splashed onto Patsy.
‘What did you do?’
Was the first of many questions aimed at her.
‘I don’t know. Thank God you came when you did,’ said the teary girl.
‘How did you make such a perfect ring of fire?’
‘Who did? You are the only one here?’
‘Did you not see my friend with a man?’
As she spoke another fireman interrupted, ‘Look at the flames on the sea,’ he pointed at a line of fire moving across the Channel.
A ball of fire rose above the sea and disappeared behind the clouds.